Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarity (Flatiron Books, 2018)
The title of Liane Moriarity’s 2018 novel, Nine Perfect Strangers, is quite clever as it is a double entendre. The nine people who gather at Tranquillum House have never met before; they are, in fact, perfect strangers to one another. What is it that has inspired each of them to go on retreat, led by an enigmatic guru named Masha?
Each character has come to Tranquillum House in search of personal perfection. A few are looking to improve their physical appearances. For others, the pilgrimage is to find inner peace after having suffered tragedy. Some guests are trying to heal from heartbreak and humiliation. If these nine perfect strangers could overcome their personal burdens, defeat their self-loathing, inability to cope with the world, or find an avenue to eternal love, all would be perfect in their worlds.
The enigmatic Masha Dmitrichenko, owner and overseer of the ten-day retreat, has left the retrace of the corporate world to find something more meaningful in life. A near death experience has led her to believe that she can transform others who are suffering in their souls as she has been transformed herself. The green-eyed beauty has spent her life reinventing her persona. She is incredibly tall, with the figure of a goddess, and Masha is adept at controlling people and bending them to her will. However, she believes what she does, no matter how odd or dangerous, is in the best interest of the guests who come to her spa for enlightenment. Her motivation, aside from making money, is to devise the best plan possible for satisfying her guests.
The focal character of Nine Perfect Strangers is an aging writer of romance fiction, Frances Wilty. Her books have zoomed to the top of Best Seller Lists for years, but suddenly she is rejected by the editors who formerly fought for her latest novel. She is advised to add an element of suspense to her latest book to spice it up, and alter her formulaic plots. The one scathing review that Frances did read of her latest published work was viciously hurtful, which sent Frances into even more of a professional tailspin.
To make matters even worse, Frances has been the victim of an on-line romantic scam, deepening her identity crisis. She comes to the retreat at Tranquillum House to console herself and come to terms with the changes she must make in her life, if she wants to continue her career and ultimately find a partner worthy of her devotion. However, like every other guest, she is skeptical of achieving success after she hears about the rigorous schedule to which each guest must adhere.
Jessica and Ben, a young couple, have just experienced everyone’s fantasy; they have won the lottery. Jessica has indulged in self-improvements, primarily on her face and body, but it has not been as enticing to her husband as she had hoped. When her friends oooed over her new boobs and puffy lips, Ben muttered that to him, she resembled a chipmunk. Ben has splurged on his dream car, a Lamborhini, which he treats like his own child, much to Jessica's disdain. Their recent windfall has not been beneficial to their once loving marriage.
Heather, Zoe, and Napoleon Marconi are each battling private demons brought on by the shattering loss of one of their closest family members. Athletic and attractive, these three don’t need the physical challenges of Tranquillum House, but they are seeking an antidote to the guilt and pain that each of them carries.
“There was something familiar about the big guy with the contraband,” Lars, another of the guests, muses. Overweight and lonely, Tony Hogburn had tried to smuggle in chips and chocolate in his suitcase, but it had been confiscated by the ever diligent staff who were just looking out for his own good. Distanced from his three grown children and his grandchildren, Tony’s closest friend had been his collie who had died. He is a loner who is seeking to rejoin a world that once adored him.
Each brief chapter is told from the point of view of one of the characters. The multiple character point of view keeps the novel moving and the pages turning. There is depth to the characters that is revealed slowly in their own chapters. Character development is one of Moriarity’s trademarks, as was seen in her blockbuster, Pretty Little Lies.
Moriarity has a light-hearted style that is at times humorous enough to make one laugh out loud, but there are tender moments as the characters endure starvation, meditation, medication, and exercise in their ten day journey for nirvana.
The novel is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie, in which we are introduced to a gaggle of oddballs who are forced to interact with each other. And, there is a surprise ending (I will not say anymore) that is quite satisfying.